A Tale of Two Southern Baptists: Worldly Credibility or Illegitimate Religious Credibility?

Speaking of Constantinianism, and assuming the editors of ModernReformation are accurate, it would seem that Albert Mohler expresses an angst which betrays the residual belief that promotion of Christianity through the powers of the state is a good thing by what he says about a possible Mormon presidency: “…the greatest danger of electing a Mormon as president is drawing attention to the church and giving it credibility.”

I have heard this before, and given our current political climate these days, I run into this ethos more and more. It usually rides the back seat on the tandem cycle of religious animus, the front seat reserved for the curious notion that since Mormons can’t figure out cultic truth, how can one be trusted at the helm of cultural endeavor? (As if true religion were a matter of pure induction and reducible to choosing the most sensible retirement plan—little wonder the front seat is usually captained by less-than-Calvinist decisionalists).

If Mormonism is one of the fastest growing religions in North America, it would seem that many have already given it attention, see it as credible and likely to be appreciably unfazed as to who takes up residence on Pennsylvania Avenue. What sentiments like Mohler’s miss is the nature of that credibility: spiritual versus worldly. Those that would champion a truly spiritual warfare, it seems to me, couldn’t care any less about what a worldly institution does or doesn’t imply. If one fears the credibility worldly office lends a falsehood, then it must follow that one feels rather secure about what that same office might do for true religion. But both the fear and security of worldly credibility reveals a rather low view of the supernatural power of God to convert the darkened and depraved human heart and a rather high view of the tools of the flesh to effect the same, ostensible protestations notwithstanding. So let the leader of the free world be Mormon, or Hindu, or Pantheist, or Baptist. If St. Paul seemed rather pacific about the fact that his Roman Emperor thought he was a deity in the here and now, why should we care if our President thinks he will be one in the hereafter—unless, as the sub-text of Mohler’s fear seems to imply, there really is something religiously credible tied up in American presidentialism that wasn’t there in Caesar? But if so, something tells me Paul would have covered that somewhere.

And yet, I am nothing if not able to concede when I can agree with a Southern Baptist Convention leader. Reading further, I was a bit aghast to see that Richard Land expresses something I seem to find myself muttering as well these days in response to those who haven’t yet shaken off the worst of Walter Martin in using the C-word to describe perfectly sane fellow citizens, failing miserably to distinguish between Jonestown and Sault Lake City: “Mormons are neither Christians nor cultists.” Alas, the joy of new-found ecumenism is predictably short-lived as my inner cynic tells me that while we may make the same utterance, it is done for different reasons. My Reformed hermeneutics tell me to read Land’s piece within his “Christian Nation” whole. Beyond his bizarre claim that posits Mormonism as “the fourth Abrahamic religion” instead of a religious system founded by a gifted charlatan eventually cut down by an angry mob, and given his unabashed Religious Right credentials, I suspect Land is more driven by the very Constantinianism that yet ails Mohler. In other words, Land is driven by a sacralized politics and evidently will stop at nothing to make sure that the third rail of his social gospel platform (read: abortion) is not abated.

All told, I cannot decide which is worse: Mohler’s fear and security of worldly credibility that perpetuates Constantinianism, or Land illegitimately lending religious credibility to a religious falsehood in order to perpetuate a mere social gospel. Maybe I will tip another sacred Southern Baptist cow by breaking an institutionalized legalism and simply throw some dice.

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27 Responses to A Tale of Two Southern Baptists: Worldly Credibility or Illegitimate Religious Credibility?

  1. John Bugay says:

    Is this your announcement for public office Zrim? We need clear thinkers like you at the helm.

  2. GLW Johnson says:

    I have this sense of wading out into the ocean and feeling the under current getting stronger with each step. I do share Mohler’s concerns about how the public perception of Mormonism would be enhanced by a Mormon setting president, and I most certaintly view Land’s calling Mormonism neither fish nor fowl very disingenuous. Having said that, my theological senses tells me that you are on the right track even though my own concerns about the alternative Democratic canidates pushes me towards a Republican who has a conservative social agenda. After all, don’t you think the Apostle Paul would have preferred that the men who sit in public office shared his own convictions ( Acts 26) ?

  3. Zrim says:

    John,

    Only if I can get Jack McCoy as my running mate…so, no.

    GLW,

    “Everyone” prefers that. But I am not so sure foisting one’s 21st century American assumptions (i.e. a liberal, democratic politic) onto the Apostle is a great idea. Besides, what Paul would have thought politically would have no bearing on one’s politics. I am sure he had plenty of opinions about all sorts of things. The problem is, none of it showes up in writing.

  4. John Bugay says:

    Zrim, who is Jack McCoy? I’d be inclined to “write you in” with or without Jack.

  5. Rick says:

    Sort of off-topic:

    Did you see the McCain Vs. Chuck Norris squabble?

    The Sen. is a brave brave man.

  6. John Bugay says:

    You understand why a guy like McCain would have some moxie though.

  7. Rick says:

    John,
    I do but, “Guns don’t kill people, Chuck Norris kills people”

    and, “Chuck Norris can kill two stones with one bird”

  8. Zrim says:

    John,

    JM (Sam Waterson) is the assistant DA on “Law and Order.” His DA is Fred Thompson, the sad sack who actually is running in real life.

    re the McCain/Norris thing…oy vey.

  9. John Bugay says:

    Rick — personally, I too am afraid of and impressed by Chuck Norris.

    Zrim — This is a good year to be looking into “W2K” as you call it. If I were genuinely intending to be politically engaged this year, it could be depressing. 🙂

  10. Zrim says:

    John,

    Now that is an interesting comment. Are you saying you intend to be disengaged (and thus happy)?

  11. John Bugay says:

    Well, the curiosity gets to me, and I have been watching the election news and comment fairly closely this year, but at this point I do feel somewhat disengaged, and I think I’d live no matter who wins or loses. Maybe it’s just the candidates this year, or maybe I’m just getting older. Or, it could be because I’m gaining some little bit of theological understanding as to how all of this fits together.

  12. Zrim says:

    John,

    One thing is for sure: you will live regardless.

    I am not saying this is you, but it intrigues me to observe people every election rehearse certain sentiments as if they were new. It’s almost as if we think we are supposed to be dissatisfied with the process, the candidates, etc.

    The “jadedness” seems indicative of perhaps some askew, underlying assumptions, namely that we are supposed to be satisfied, etc. When reality comes knocking, we see that our world isn’t up to our sunny aspirations or high expectations. Some folks I know withdraw themselves entirely. It is usually for various reasons, but one seems to be that they were expecting so much more than surfaces. I can’t help but wonder if such is indicative of just how much we have lent eternal stakes to temporal ends.

    This seems to be where my “Christian secularism” comes in quite handy: I don’t “expect much” from a dying, fading age. Yet, withdrawl doesn’t seem to register with me very clearly. The public square has dignity and there is much to be said for a “proximate justice,” but the operative word seems to be “proximate.” This is why I much prefer to do earth with secularists and heaven with (true) religionists. When you mix those categories things get, well, weird.

  13. John Bugay says:

    Zrim, I’m sure some of the feelings and expectations are due simply to having been conditioned. Americans are very competitive people, and when “our guy” or “our team” doesn’t win, there is naturally occurring disappointment.

    Now, I have learned to be a “fair weather” fan regarding football. I wasn’t too disappointed at all when the Steelers fell out of the playoffs this year. That was conditioning.

    On the other hand, “civic virtue” is “civic virtue,” whether practiced by “religionists” or “secularists” to use your language. And the “religionists” do have their, uh, sensibilities about things, and it does seem impossible for me to prevent some of that from filtering into the process.

  14. Zrim:

    I tend to think that the pubic’s jadedness has come through in recent elections: it hasn’t been since Ronald Reagan that a president was voted in by an overwhelming majority. Starting with the first (GHW) Bush presidency, the margins have been getting progressively smaller. This either means that the public doesn’t clearly favor any one candidate or party, or that the candidates themselves are getting so wishy-washy and middle-of-the-road that there really isn’t much distinction between them anymore. I’m inclined to think it’s a little of both.

    These days the country seems to be such a huge Titanic of a polity that who’s in charge matters less and less. The turning radius is so large that we’re unlikely to make any sort of sweeping directional change; it’s almost self-perpetuating at this point, and I wonder if we’ll be able to see and identify potential icebergs from a great enough distance to actually avoid them.

  15. Rick says:

    “His DA is Fred Thompson, the sad sack who actually is running in real life”

    Fred Thompson has just dropped out.

    Back to Law and Order

  16. Zrim says:

    Speaking of Titanic, I feel like the thread has gotten off course and into certain waters I didn’t really intend…

    I am interested in what anybody thinks of this apparent Constantinianism of Mohler’s.

  17. Rick says:

    Sorry for taking the thread off course, Zrim.

    In short, this is Constantinianism on Mohler’s part and I don’t like it.

    Even if a Romney in the land’s highest office would give his false religion “more credibility” – so what? It doesn’t matter to me – but I have my 2K’s in perspective (for the most part).

    You said it in the post and I say here here:

    But both the fear and security of worldly credibility reveals a rather low view of the supernatural power of God to convert the darkened and depraved human heart and a rather high view of the tools of the flesh to effect the same, ostensible protestations notwithstanding. So let the leader of the free world be Mormon, or Hindu, or Pantheist, or Baptist…

  18. Amil says:

    The greatest threat to Christianity coming from the office of the president is the ability of the leader to malign Christ’s reputation by establishing himself as a representative of Christ. While none of us would support policy that persecutes Christians, exploits the poor, or encourages sin to abound, those policies would only serve to enhance and grow Christ’s church. Our real fear should be of a “Christian” president tarnishing God’s good name.
    How many times does a car bearing a “Jesus”-fish need to cut you off, speed, run stops signs, steal your parking spot before God’s reputation suffers. A U.S. president is watched by the entire world, and can be much more devastating than a self-righteous minivan.
    I think this is especially true when it comes to foreign policy, to quote Luther from On War Against the Turk:

    “But what moved me most of all was this. They undertook to fight against the Turk under the name of Christ, and taught men and stirred them up to do this, as though our people were an army of Christians against the Turks, who were enemies of Christ; and this is straight against Christ’s doctrine and name. It is against His doctrine, because He says that Christians shall not resist evil, shall not fight or quarrel, not take revenge or insist on rights. It is against His name, because in such an army there are scarcely five Christians, and perhaps worse people in the eyes of God than are the Turks; and yet they would all bear the name of Christ. This is the greatest of all sins and one that no Turk commits, for Christ’s name is used for sin and shame and thus dishonored.”

  19. Echo_ohcE says:

    I’ll be your huckleberry.

    Mohler is not necessarily subject to your charge Zrim.

    To say that a Mormon president is not good for the church is not the same as saying that he can’t be a good president and good for the country.

    There are lots of weak Christians out there who, when they see a Mormon elected president, will be tempted to think that Mormons aren’t the silly cultists we all know them to be. Maybe this won’t make them convert, but…

    You and I both know that there is very little difference between Mormonism and say, Rick Warren. Both are encouraging people to be good, moral people.

    For those true, elect believers who are deceived by the anti-Christian message of Warren and his ilk, they are also vulnerable to the deception of Mormonism. Not to convert, but to be softened by it, and to be pushed yet one more step away from recognizing the absolute uniqueness of Christianity’s message of the cross as the only way to heaven.

    I actually kind of like Romney as a candidate, but if he’s elected, then some true believers will soften to Mormonism. True, they are the weak Christians, but nonetheless, I mourn this eventuality.

    That’s not to say that I necessarily want an evangelical in the oval office. I’m not saying that Obama, who claims to be a Christian yet favors abortion, wouldn’t also do damage to the church, because he would too.

    I’m just saying, the fact is, when a man is elected president, he influences the culture, and this eventually influences at least some in the church. Probably not good reformed people, but the weak and deceived will be weakened even more.

    But honestly, there is no such thing as a president who could strengthen the church. And of course I don’t long for anything like that. I don’t long for a Horton or a Clark to run that the Reformed church might gain credibility. I don’t want to influence the church by influencing culture. Nonetheless, when culture is influenced, and certain things become socially acceptable rather than taboo, it does influence the church.

    E

  20. Zrim says:

    “Our real fear should be of a ‘Christian’ president tarnishing God’s good name.”

    You mean like naming Him one’s favorite philosopher? Kidding. Sort of.

    I don’t know, Amil. I mean, that seems like the flipside fear which yet assumes that worldly credibility matters. I tarnish God’s “reputation” every day, even though I obey the road rules and don’t sport a fish. I guess my problem is not so much that a believer in high office would stumble (since that seems pretty predictable given a nobody like me who lives in relative obscurity does) so much as the assumption that a believer with a high, worldly profile should do better. Still seems worldly to me.

  21. Zrim says:

    Echo,

    So am I one of those “weak, softened and deceived” and “not good reformed people” when I say that “Mormons aren’t silly cultists”?

    …’cause, that was a part of what is implied in the post-proper…

  22. RubeRad says:

    to quote Luther from On War Against the Turk

    But don’t forget Luther’s other famous quote about “the Turk”: Better to be ruled by a Wise Turk than a Foolish Christian. In terms of his capability for statecraft, I am too ignorant of politics to say whether Romney would be a wise or foolish Turk. But would you (Amil) classify him as a “foolish Christian” — not in the sense that he is a Christian, but in the sense that he makes a foolish claim to Christianity, and by raising Mormonism to be on par with orthodoxy, assigns it the same foolishness-by-association?

    As long as Romney remains classified as a Turk, not a Christian, Luther’s point is that no amount of competence on his part would bring any shame to Christianity. But if he does a good job, we would need to be worried only if his claim to Christianity is allowed to stand, AND if we foolishly tie Christianity’s reputation to his success.

    Personally, I think the more exposure Mormonism gets, so much the worse for Mormonism. A Romney election would be a tremendous apologetic opportunity.

  23. Zrim says:

    “Worry, worry, worry, too much worry.”

  24. Rick says:

    “Would somebody just pass me the bread and wine?”

  25. Zrim says:

    Exactly. Where have I heard that before…?

  26. Rick says:

    That’s why it’s in quotes – I borrowed it from a wise and controversial young man.

  27. Pingback: Who Said That? « The Confessional Outhouse

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